Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Lengths We Are Willing to Go

When I ordered twin-flower (Linnaea borealis) in 2007 from Arrowhead Alpines for my new rock garden I was skeptical of its potential for success. I have tried many boreal plants in various hot Midwestern gardens and have had many failures. These boreal plants are native to the acidic soils and cool summers of the far north and suffer from our hot humid summers, and heavy clay soils. With the rock garden I can address the soils issue, but there isn't much I can do about hot weather. To my pleasant surprise the three plants I bought all took off and continue to do well as they begin their third growing season with me.

The "bad" part of this success is that it encourages me to continue to try plants that my experience tells me will not do well. I am sure that most will, in fact, not do well, but it is that chance that is going to cost me time and money. (Ah, but the thrill of success!) And then there is the question of how do I advise others. I answer horticultural questions all day long at work and, if asked, by a caller I would say, "No, twin-flower is not likely to grow well here in north central Ohio. I recommend you not buy it." It is the sort of "don't try this at home" warning. I think hard core gardeners are conditioned to accept the many failures of gardening and understand the specialized needs of some plants. I worry that my callers, who are usually tentative gardeners, will quit if they don't have success. They don't want to go to great lengths to make something grow, and even when they say they will I suspect they don't really understand the lengths we hard core gardeners actually go to make some, "lowly, insignificant, disregarded, flowering for a brief time..." plant like twin-flower survive.

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